From the Western Front to a British Garden – WWI Gun to go on display - Thursday, 28 March 2013
A First World War German gun that sat rusting in a British garden for over 80 years is now being fully restored for Fort Nelson’s Great War centenary commemorations next year.
The weapon – a 25cm heavy mine thrower (minenwerfer) – is currently being skilfully worked on in the Royal Armouries Museum workshops at Fort Nelson near Fareham and will take pride of place in an exhibition in 2014.
Manufactured in 1917 and constructed of wood and steel, the gun was brought home by a soldier who served as a Sherwood Forester (Nottinghamshire and Derby Regiment) as the guns fell silent on the Western Front.
Royal Armouries’ Curator of Artillery Philip Magrath takes up the story: “We were approached by the soldier’s daughter back in 2002, and she offered us the gun which her father had brought home as a trophy.
“She remembered playing on it in the garden in their East Midlands home during the 1930s, where it eventually sat for over 80 years, exposed to the elements. We are delighted to have it in the national collection and I recently heard from the soldier’s grand-daughter, and she was also pleased it is being restored.
“We don’t know much about its service history, unfortunately, but it almost certainly saw action at the Western Front. It was heavily rusted and the wood was powdery in places but it’s now being skilfully restored by our technician, Mick Cooper. We can’t restore it to full firing order, but it will recapture much of its former glory, visually.
“We are glad to have a German gun as part of our forthcoming exhibition, as it provides context and perspective. It also serves as a poignant reminder of immense human cost suffered by both sides.
“It is fitting that it will go on display at Fort Nelson, as the Victorian building acted as a transit depot and training establishment for soldiers embarking at Portsmouth for France. We have some fine examples of social history, including tales of soldiers who practised trench digging between Fort Nelson and Fort Southwick. They were billeted on our parade ground in huts, similar to the kiosk that currently stands here.”
A Royal Armouries’ technician for over nine years, Mick Cooper is now restoring and conserving the gun and has stripped it back to the bare metal and wood.
He said, “The biggest challenge was to dis-assemble it without damaging the gun. We don’t have an engineering specification, so we’ve carried out careful research and I’ve recreated the most badly-damaged sections, particularly the wooden wheel spokes, as precise replicas.”
Once restored, the gun will be reassembled and painted, in preparation for the First World War exhibition at the Fort. Other potential highlights include:
- Restoration of a 1918, British 18-pounder quick-firing field gun – manufactured by Vickers Sons & Maxim. This was used as a gate gun at an Aldershot barracks, prior to being added to the Royal Armouries’ national collection. It is still in working order, and has been fired at various Fort Nelson events
- Trench Art – Fine examples of embossed field gun cartridges, plus cartridges that have been heated and moulded into artistic shapes.
- A French 75mm projectile that has been cut and a clock mechanism inserted.
Specific details of the Fort Nelson exhibition, including dates, will be confirmed nearer the time.
Standing high on Portsdown Hill near Fareham, Fort Nelson showcases one of the world’s finest collections of artillery and cannon, from across the ages and from all corners of the globe.
Notes to editors
In 2011, this unique heritage attraction underwent a £3.5m redevelopment to create a museum for the 21st century, supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, complete with new galleries, state-of-the-art education centre and visitor facilities.
There’s also a 19-acre site to explore, complete with underground tunnels – and the Café 1871 is open every day.
For more details about Fort Nelson, please visit www.royalarmouries.org
- Royal Armouries is the national museum of arms and armour and has sites in Leeds, HM Tower of London, Fort Nelson and Louisville, Kentucky. It is the first British national museum to open a permanent presence in another country
- Admission to the museum is free. However, there may be a small charge for some special events.
- Open all year daily, 10am-5pm. Closed 24-25 December
- Information Line: 0113 220 1999
- Website: www.royalarmouries.org
- The Royal Armouries Museum should not be confused with Royal Armouries International plc, the private sector corporate hospitality business.
To find Fort Nelson, follow the brown Tourist signs from the M27. The Fort is open seven days a week, from 10am to 5pm.